77 All About Anchoring Phenomena

May 7, 2022

Often, anchoring phenomena is confusing to science teachers. In this episode, Erin and Nicole discuss what this type of phenomenon is and how it is used. Then, they explain how to use it and some common mistakes.

What is the purpose of anchoring phenomena?

Erin describes anchoring phenomena as the glue that hold your lesson sequence together. She explains that its important to refer back to the anchor throughout the lesson sequence. It is what students try to explain throughout the lesson sequence. Also, the anchor helps generates student questions. Ideally, these questions drive the lesson sequence.

This is an all-encompassing definition of anchoring phenomena.

In addition, Nicole describes the anchor as the spark that starts the lesson sequence. She also explains that the anchor provides context for all of the information that you’d planned on teaching in your lesson sequence.

If it is used correctly, the anchor shows students the significance of what they learn in the classroom. Also, it provides a real-world or emotional connection.

What are common mistakes that teachers make when using anchoring phenomena?

There are several common mistakes that teachers make when using anchors in their science courses. Here are a few.

Using the Phenomena Only as a Hook

Often, teachers use the phenomena as a hook. In part, this is the purpose of the phenomenon. However, the anchor is not solely used for engagement purposes. Often, when this occurs, the teacher refers to the anchor at the start of the the lesson sequence. Then, it doesn’t show up in the lesson sequence again. Or, it only shows up again at the end of the lesson sequence.

Hook vs. Anchor
- Attention grabber, has a wow factor
- Engages students in the lesson, but might not have a real-world application 
- Teacher provides the explanation.
- Real world connection to the content students will be learning. 
-Prompts student questions that drive the lesson sequence.
-Teacher facilitates students in developing their own explanation of the phenomenon.
Often, teachers confuse the Anchoring Phenomenon for the Hook. These are the major differences between the two.

Using a Question for the Anchor

Sometimes, teachers will use a question in place of the anchor. However, an anchor is not a question. Instead, the anchor is the thing that leads student to ask questions.

Using an Anchor that is Novel, But Not Very Relevant

Another common mistake is choosing a phenomenon because it is novel. These phenomena are new and interesting. However, they aren’t something that students encounter in their normal lives.

Unfortunately, this type of phenomenon is difficult to tie in to an entire lesson sequence. Also, the novelty of these phenomena tend to wear off and students become less and less engaged throughout the lesson sequence.

Instead, it is important to choose phenomena that are relatable or stir emotion.

Using a Demo as an Anchoring Phenomenon

More often than not, a demo is not an appropriate anchoring phenomenon. It’s important that an anchoring phenomenon is specific. Also, it should be something that can be observed in the real-world.

It’s okay to use demos that connect to the phenomenon. In fact, demos make great investigative level phenomena. However, the demos themselves are not the phenomenon.

To learn more about how to effectively use demos in your classroom, check out this episode.

Things to Consider When Choosing Anchoring Phenomena

Here are a few thing to keep in mind when choosing anchoring phenomena.

Know Your Audience

Phenomena that are interesting and engaging to teachers are not necessarily engaging to students. Sometimes, teacher choose phenomena that is too complex to be engaging to students. Or, teachers choose phenomena that students don’t care about. It is important to know your students and what interests them when choosing phenomena.

Consider What They Were Exposed to in Previous Grade Levels

Occasionally, a teacher may disregard a potential phenomenon because it seems too easy to figure out. However, if your students haven’t been exposed to a phenomenon and it is relevant to them it is probably a good phenomenon.

For younger students, simple phenomena is idea. But, if your middle school students aren’t exposed to NGSS-style science in elementary school, simple phenomena may still be a good choice.

Bring in Phenomena that Sparks Emotion

When you are just teaching the content, some science concepts can be uninteresting to students. However, social and environmental issues bring relevance for these concepts.

For example, Nicole discussed the concept of evaporation. By itself, this concept isn’t particularly engaging. However, if you tie it to the issue of people in a certain area not having enough water to drink due because of evaporation, the concept become much more relevant.

Also, recent studies have found that school-aged students care deeply about environmental issues. Therefore, these issues make great phenomena.

What does anchoring phenomena look like in the classroom? Where can you find good phenomena?

Anchors can take a variety of shapes and forms in your classroom. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Anchors as Experiences

Nicole explains that she likes to think of anchors as experiences. For example, Nicole explains that specific tornado can be chosen as an anchoring phenomenon. She acknowledges that most of her students have not experienced a tornado before. So, she likes to build an experience that will help them understand what a tornado is like.

Text: I Like to Think of Anchors and Experiences 
- Nicole Van Tassel

Nicole uses a variety of resources to build this experience for her students. For instance, she shows her students a video of a tornado. Then, she brings in personal accounts of the experience. Finally, she shows students data.

Nicole suggests building an experience for your students. She has even included children’s stories to help make the experience come to life.

Having multiple components that support your anchor make the experience more robust. Also, these pieces can be brought in at different times throughout your lesson sequences in order maintain engagement.

How to Find an Anchor

There are many ways to find an anchor. Here are a few ways to find an anchor.

  • Browse science news websites for recent discoveries.
  • Research social or environmental issues related to the topic you are covering.
  • Investigate problems in the area by looking at maps, news articles or even Facebook groups.
  • Identify an anchor before bundling the standards.
Characteristics of Great Anchoring Phenomena 
- A specific- real world event or problem
- Relate directly to student lives 
- Has social or environmental implications
- Spark curiosity or stir emotions in your students

More Resources to Help with Anchoring Phenomena and the NGSS